Hello everyone! As part of Short Story Saturday, I have posted another short story, this one entitled A Lesson in Humility. The original writing prompt is taken from https://www.writersdigest.com/prompts/antiquing-writing-prompt.
It was not a family reunion that should have ever happened. Did it defy the laws of God? Nature? Life itself? To think it none of this would have ever happened had I not been so covetous for fame. Such is the price to learn a lesson in humility.
I’m an author of very little renown. I doubt you’ve ever heard of but me you may be familiar with my grandfather. If you’re a fan of his works you’ll know who I mean. He is someone I think about constantly.
Of course, he’d be easier to forget if I didn’t have to pass his grave every day. Admittedly, as convenient as it was, I shouldn’t have buried him so close to home. Normally I pride myself of being a cynic but I must confess that I can feel his presence. It is as if he is haunting me. Appropriate, I suppose, as he did love to write about the supernatural.
He was the reason why I decided to visit that antique shop that day, at least indirectly. You see, I needed to acquire a typewriter for a series of photographs I wanted to shoot. One picture would be of me dressed like my grandfather sitting at a typewriter. Overlayed on top would be another photograph of me dressed as I am normally sitting at my laptop. The idea was to convey the notion that I was continuing my grandfather’s legacy. True, it was a bit exploitative but those who know me know that I not above doing things like that to increase my popularity. I’m sure my grandfather wouldn’t have minded.
Finding the typewriter could not have been simpler. There was a shelf dedicated to them on the far wall opposite the entrance. I took the one that looked the oldest even though I have to admit none of them looked particularly old. Now that I think about it, I think they were replicas that were merely meant to emulate models of yore that the proprietor was, and I have to admit in my case successfully, trying to pass off as genuine. No matter. Whether my grandfather actually used that style of typewriter I purchased or whether it was truly as old as the shopkeeper claimed mattered very little. It was the symbolism I wanted so it was the symbolism I got.
The typewriter was all I meant to buy and I would have bought no other thing had I not, out of the corner of my eye, as I carried the heavy item to the front counter to make my purchase, saw something in retrospect I wish I had never seen. It was mesmerizing, though. I felt compelled to walk toward it after dropping the typewriter onto the proprietor’s desk which caused his ashen-hair to stand on end. I should have apologized. I realize that now. In my defense, my mind was elsewhere. My thoughts had formed a singularity. All I could think of at that moment was the tome tucked away in the darkest corner of the store lying atop a black pulpit.
How I was able to see it is a mystery that I have not solved even to this day. It was on the opposite side of where I was walking in the most poorly illuminated section of an already poorly illuminated store. It was 10 am everywhere except for the store where it was midnight yet somehow I was still about to see it with my peripheral vision no less. What made me so attracted to that tome, anyway? Was it the imagery of the screaming skull on the cover? Perhaps, but I don’t believe so. As ludicrous as it sounds, I believe I was beckoned by the tome itself.
I examined it. The tome’s thousands of yellow pages were bound together by a strange material that I first assumed was leather but quickly discovered after clutching it that it was truly composed of some sort of rare hide that I had never seen or felt before. Opening the book proved to be impossible thanks to the metal clasps that kept it locked.
“I thought I got rid of that thing,” the elderly man said as he joined me. “Don’t know who brought it back or set it up like this.”
“It wasn’t you?”
“Nope, threw it away. One of my weekenders must have brought it back. They’re into weird stuff like that.”
“Why did you throw the book away?”
“Could never find a buyer. Shame too, book has quite a history, ‘least if a crazy, dirty, and nasty young man is to be believed. His bugged eyes creeped me out, I tell ya. Couldn’t tell his age because he looked young but his hair was whiter than mine. ‘Course I s’pose he’d fit in with those other San Francisco folk or any of those other west coasters. Never trust anyone outside of New England, I always say.
Think he said something about a half-crazed Arab owning it, then a Pope banned it, think at some point a worm had it or something? Think he said something about the Salem Witch Trials were mentioned and at some point a Magician? I dunno. All I know is he wanted to get rid of it so he gave it to me for free. Thought it was a pretty good deal ’til I realized I couldn’t get the damn thing open.”
To illustrate, he grabbed the book from my hand and fiddled with the clasps to no avail before handing it back.
“Tried cutting the straps with the knife, tried sawing the clasps, but nothing worked. Anyway, seeing as I tried to get rid of it, you can have it if you want, fer free I mean.”
I nodded but did not say a word. I could hardly concentrate on what the elderly man was saying as I was instead focused on my trembling hands. I was filled with a mixture of apprehension and yearning that enveloped my very being. I did not merely want the book. I yearned for it. I craved it. I needed it. The book demanded that I have it. Even though, deep down, I feared it.
Silently, I made my purchase, tucked the tome underneath one arm as I used my hands and arms to load the typewriter into the car though I must admit that I had nearly forgotten about the typewriter completely by the time I began my drive back home. The only thought on my mind was the tome.
When I stopped at a red light, I gazed onto the cover. My head jerked and I was immediately taken aback. I could not believe my eyes nor could I believe my ears, but it was unmistakable as much as I tried in vain to convince myself otherwise.
The skull’s mouth had moved and it emitted a strange sound.
The hallucinations started upon hearing the noises. My senses were assaulted with grave and dire images so vivid it was as if they were happening right outside my car window. I saw visions of sons killing fathers. Visions of decaying corpses littering the streets. Visions of wailing women lamenting the fallen. Visions of death. Visions of violence. Visions of destruction. Visions of mayhem and terror. The phantasmagorias only grew more gruesome, more terrifying, more infernal. Soon, I could see nothing but these horrors.
These visions haunted me. They mocked me. They consumed me. I became increasingly more desperate. I yearned for a knife so I could dig into my skull and cut the images out of my brain. The madness nearly overwhelmed. I am unsure how I made it home.
It was the tome that drove me to the brink of insanity. I sensed somehow that somewhere within its pages was the remedy I so desperately needed. I abandoned the typewriter, it no longer mattered, as I rushed inside with the tome in hand.
I did not even bother to turn off the car’s engine, which, along the haste and desperation I displayed upon exiting the vehicle, surely would have drawn the ire and scrutiny of neighbors had I any. Instead, I was Isolated and alone fifteen miles away from civilization. I inherited my home from my grandfather and it served as the perfect location for a writer. I had privacy from prying eyes. I am sure it is why he chose to leave there for his remaining years.
I frantically threw open my door and ran inside. I tossed the book onto the kitchen table and feverishly ransacked my cabinets and drawers for a way to open the clasps. Almost every object I owned, sharp or otherwise, that could be logically or illogically used to unfasten steel locks were applied. Nothing worked and the visions only continued to grow ever more relentless.
All options were soon exhausted. I was a broken man both physically and mentally, with no means of ending the madness. There was little I could do but sit on a kitchen chair and weep.
That is when I heard the sound of a metallic click followed by the sounds of pages unfolding and turning. At first, I dismissed it as my imagination, but as the noises increased in volume I knew that it was really happening and was no mere trick of the mind. With trepidation, I removed my hands from my eyes and looked at the tome. It was open.
I believe that it must have sensed my earnestness, my sincerity, and the gravity of my dismal situation. The tome must have also felt my anguish, my pain, and my sorrow. It doubtlessly chose that moment to unfasten its clasps because it deemed me worthy of its stygian contents. That’s why neither I nor the elderly clerk could open the book ourselves. The tome only opens for a chosen few.
I pounced on the tome. It was written in a language that I had never seen before yet could somehow understand and read. Lines and figures seemed to move before my very eyes. Perhaps this could be dismissed as mere fatigue. I cannot say. Regardless, my eyes fervently consumed every blasphemous word. I believed that somewhere in these passages was the cure I desperately required.
I read each Tartarean word of a macabre tale discussing the nature of life and death aloud. It concluded with a rhyming couplet, the only one of its kind.
That is not dead which can eternal lie.
And with strange aeons even death may die.
That is when I blacked out.
I’m not sure how much time passed before I regained consciousness. I awoke to find myself staring at the ceiling lying amongst the debris I had previously flung to the kitchen floor. The chair I was sitting in was lodged into the back wall.
Slowly and deliberately, I managed to pull myself to one knee, There I grew cognizant of a most horrific putrefying smell which compelled me to cover my face as I rose to my feet.
Breathing through my mouth proved equally difficult. It was almost as if the very air had become thicker and more putrid. As my head cleared, I discovered the entire atmosphere had changed to one of death.
I felt nauseated and nearly vomited several times.
As I staggered about the room, I bumped into the table but the book didn’t budge, not that I initially noticed as I was stunned by a more unusual sight. The tome was surrounded by small green flames. I placed a hand over them. They emitted no heat. I attempted to move the tome away from the fire but my hands were immediately repelled.
At first, I thought there must have been some sort of force field surrounding it, but upon further examination, I realized a vortex had formed above its pages. It formed into a small and slow tornado, though slow in this case is a relative term as the wind was quick enough to fend off my hands.
My attention turned elsewhere. I heard another noise above the wind. It was barely perceptible at first, but it quickly grew louder, clearer, and most of all, angrier. It was an anguished, pain-ridden moan accompanied by the sounds of dragging feet. Those noises were getting closer to my home.
A sudden bang nearly made me leap out of my skin. Successive bangs followed, each one more frenzied and violent. Whoever or whatever was out there wanted in desperately.
I was frozen with fear and trepidation. For a while, I stood there, dumbfounded, unable to move. I denied any of this was happening. I convinced myself this was all a dream. I recited prayer after prayer and begged to be released from this nightmare. It was futile.
Panic nearly set in. I wanted to run, to hide, to curl up into a ball and hope the problem vanished on its own. Logic eluded me. The only emotion I felt was the impulse to escape.
The fear soon subsided, albeit only slightly. In its place was a strange sort of curiosity. The peephole was beckoning. I had to answer its call. Perhaps my anxiety was unfounded. Perhaps the individual outside was just an injured man needing assistance. Perhaps this whole affair was silly, a mere overreaction.
I dragged myself both literally and figuratively to the door in the longest ten-foot journey of my life. I took a couple of large breaths before I closed my eyes and moved my head toward the peephole. After another moment of hesitation, I opened an eye and looked outside.
My blood ran cold. I felt myself go pale. A sickness, a revulsion, a queasiness came over me. I vomited on the floor.
Outside a putrefying and ensanguined man pounded on my door. His skin was a sickly green. His eyes, barely in his skull, were rolling around like tiny rubber balls. His mouth was agape and his tongue hung off to the side. Green saliva dripped from his brown, rotting teeth. Tufts of dirty white hair sprung from the sides of his otherwise bald head. Parts of him, most notably his nose and his entire left hand, were missing. His clothes were in tatters. There were rips and tears all over. They were stained with mud and dirt. He had two large holes in his stomach and chest. A maroon fluid flowed from his wounds and dripped from his mouth.
I recognized him immediately. He was my grandfather. He had risen from the grave.
“Dear God in Heaven,” I said to myself as I frantically ran up the stairs to get my shotgun, “He’s back. And I thought I’d only have to shoot him once.”
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